Start here if you’ve never read any Icelandic crime, or never read anything by Arnaldur Indriðason, and fancy dipping a toe without needing to know racks of back-story from previous episodes. Alternatively, start here if you’ve read absolutely everything else translated into English by Arnaldur Indriðason and thoroughly enjoy his intelligent approach exploring the human condition through criminal investigations.
In this new series, two separate casts of characters, quite different in style and substance to the author’s established Erlendur series, begin tugging at threads when two dead bodies trigger suspicions. The result is a thoroughly satisfying story – a murder mystery which provides intriguing insights into Iceland’s little-known wartime history, the American ‘occupation’ and how it affected the somewhat stolid society of this small and isolated nation.
The mystery gradually unfolds in multiple threads based ‘back then’ and ‘here and now’. The repercussions of a murder in wartime Reykjavik, when a young woman was strangled in the city’s ‘shadow district’, resurface with the unnatural end of an elderly man’s existence in the current day. Enter Konrád, a retired detective with an unusual upbringing, and his historic counterparts – an American military policeman and an Icelandic investigator. In alternating chapters they discover more victims, a strange link to Icelandic folklore, and a convoluted connection to Konrád’s own father.
In fact, the quirky digressions from the central narrative add significant sparkle to proceedings. Konrád’s dad was apparently a wrong ’un who held séances to separate vulnerable mourners from their money; condemned by society as a conman. But was he? There are hints of something more…
Equally, the interactions between the soldiers and civilians in the 1940s segments are extremely illuminating. Meanwhile, Konrád’s conversations with his 21st century colleagues provide opportunities for delightfully dry dialogue and social commentary. This isn’t a novel packed with pulse-pounding cliffhanger chapters, but something rather more considered and progressively paced.
So The Shadow District offers more depth than you might initially imagine. It’s a pleasing progression of logical investigation, as the different detectives track down witnesses, tease out crucial testimony and join the dots over many decades. It delivers an involving mystery, convincing characters and a smattering of social history. I look forward to the next one…
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indriðason is available in various formats
Find Frank Westworth’s crime-thrillers at Amazon